South Allegheny uses buzzer-beater to defeat Beaver Falls, reach WPIAL semifinals

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Thursday, February 20, 2020 | 10:49 PM


Bryce Epps wasn’t having his best shooting night, but suddenly a loose ball was at his feet.

With the clock ticking down, the South Allegheny freshman scooped up the offensive rebound and scored at the buzzer as No. 3 seed South Allegheny defeated No. 6 Beaver Falls, 60-58, Thursday night in a dramatic WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinal victory at West Allegheny.

His hurried floater from the foul-line has the Gladiators (23-1) headed to the semifinals to face No. 2 North Catholic (22-2) on Monday.

“I didn’t know how much time I had,” Epps said. “I just had to turn around with a bunch of 6-foot-5 kids in my face. It just happened to go in.”

Epps had made only three shots all game.

“We just kept telling him to stay focused and stay positive,” South Allegheny coach Tony DiCenzo said, “because he’s going to make a play for us to win this game.”

Epps watched his shot slip through the net and then raced the length of the court with his teammates in pursuit for a celebration that seemed improbable a few minutes earlier. Beaver Falls had held a seven-point lead with less than 3 minutes left but South Allegheny scored the final nine points to win.

“I’m at a loss for words for what these kids have been up against,” said DiCenzo, who called this a magical season for the Gladiators.

Consider, in his first seven, South Allegheny went 8-14, 14-9, 5-16, 1-20, 5-16, 11-12 and 6-15. The team hadn’t won 23 games in the past four seasons combined.

“Even being 23-1 now, we’ve kind of been in the underdog role,” DiCenzo said. “Being new on the scene, we’re not getting the notoriety and respect of the perennial (contenders). … We like that. We like being overlooked a little bit. I think now, some people realize that we’ve arrived.

“And not having a senior on the team, we’re going to be around for a little while.”

Beaver Falls senior Noah Vaughan scored a game-high 28 points, with 10 in the third quarter, and made seven 3-pointers. His Tigers had a chance to hold for the final shot but lost the ball out of bounds with 15 seconds left.

Tied 58-58, DiCenzo put the ball in the hands Bryce Epps’ older brother, Antonio, and South Allegheny tried to make room for the star junior to score. Antonio Epps already had 24 points with 10 in the fourth quarter.

“He got us to that point,” DiCenzo said. “Late in the fourth quarter, he kind of took the game over. I felt the ball in his hands with space was our best option.”

However, Epps’ route to the basket was blocked, so he passed to sophomore Ethan Kirkwood in the right corner. Kirkwood’s 3-pointer bounced off the rim. The rebound landed near the foul line, where Bryce Epps picked it up and floated the game-winner over outstretched Beaver Falls hands.

“I was in the right place at the right time,” said Epps, who finished with 11 points.

Beaver Falls had led 56-49 after a Michael Conley banked in a shot with 2 minutes, 50 seconds left. But the Tigers, who stayed aggressive, couldn’t protect that lead.

“I called time out to tell the guys, we need the basketball, we don’t need to score,” Beaver Falls coach Carliss Jeter said. “Then we had two quick turnovers. It was a play here or there. … It came down to one play and they got the last play of the game.”

Listen to an archived broadcast of this game at Trib HSSN.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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